Thursday, May 27, 2010

The 2012 Frontloading Problem: What's Our Incentive?

Yesterday I spoke with someone from Gannett about both parties' current attempts to devise rules systems governing the 2012 presidential nomination process. We discussed a lot in our five minute conversation, but the thing that struck me was his question on the likelihood of more rogue states in 2012. FHQ's standard answer is that as long as both parties are on the same page on the issue of timing, then most states will fall in line.

However, I think that there is some need for a caveat. The big what if in the back of the minds of those within the national parties is whether states will actually go along with that. What if they don't? What's is the incentive for those 19 pre-March states to move back to comply with the likely rules for 2012? In most cases, in the opinion of this site, states will just comply. It just won't be an issue. Yet, for other states there may be no incentive to move back. Additionally, that latter group of states may not flinch at the enforcement mechanism put in place by either or both parties. And therein lies the question that came out at the Democratic Rules and Bylaws Committee meeting last week: What is that enforcement mechanism? I don't know about the Republican Party, but I got the sense that no one in the room last week knew what that was or more importantly what it should be.

As I said, I don't think it will be a problem in a majority of the 19 cases.* Most states will fall in line and the system will revert to its earlier nothing-before-the-first-Tuesday-in-March form. There are, in FHQ's estimation, a small handful of states that could dare the national parties to do something -- anything -- to sanction them by sticking to their 2008 calendar positions. And I don't think the parties would have much recourse but to let them.

Yes, but where is that line of demarcation? Which states would be better able to call the national parties' bluff if they really wanted to?

Allow us to enlist the help of our Electoral College Spectrum [This version of the spectrum is based on the final results in the 2008 election.]. The idea of the spectrum is simple: It rank orders the states from the most lopsided Democratic state (Hawaii in the top left corner) to the most lopsided Republican state (Wyoming in the bottom right corner). The two extreme columns aren't that helpful to us. Those are the most reliably Democratic and Republican states. But as we move inward the states get more competitive. And the more competitive a state gets, the more leverage it would have on the national parties in terms of primary timing.

The Electoral College Spectrum*
*Follow the link for a detailed explanation on how to read the Electoral College Spectrum.
**The numbers in the parentheses refer to the number of electoral votes a candidate would have if he won all the states ranked prior to that state. If, for example, McCain won all the states up to and including Colorado (all Obama's toss up states plus Colorado), he would have 269 electoral votes. McCain's numbers are only totaled through the states he would have needed in order to get to 270. In those cases, Obama's number is on the left and McCain's is on the right in italics.

Colorado is the state where Obama crossed the 270 electoral vote threshold to win the presidential election. That line is referred to as the victory line.
****Nebraska allocates electoral votes based on statewide results and the results within each of its congressional districts. Nebraska's 2nd district voted for Barack Obama on November 4.

Let me parse this out.

Say you're a state legislator or the governor in Florida. Your primary is already scheduled for the last Tuesday in January. You have a pretty good idea that you'll be a competitive state in the general election. You also know that losing half your delegates is a meaningless threat from the parties. It is the influence over the identity of the nominee that counts. That's all the Republicans did in 2008. The Democrats initially had that same sanction, but added a candidate-focused penalty as well. Candidates who campaigned in rogue states would not have any delegates they won in that state's contest seated at the Democratic convention. [Of course, it didn't play out that way for the Democrats in 2008.]

Given that information and the 2008 experience (Think Indiana and North Carolina from the primaries to the general election for the Democrats.), what would you do? Personally, I'd balk at the parties. If you are a state that is already scheduled early (earlier than the proposed party-designated March starting point), why not roll the dice? The parties would be stuck. Why would they pass up a golden opportunity for some early grassroots party-building for the general election in a state that will ultimately prove consequential to either side's electoral college calculus? They wouldn't; not in the way the Democrats did with Florida and Michigan in 2008. If all either party is doing is stripping a rogue state of half their delegates, then it could be open season for movement, as it isn't likely to deter states from either staying early or moving to earlier dates. But if they are trying to keep the candidates out of the state -- like the Democrats did in 2008 -- then the move is potentially counterproductive down the road in the general election.

The parties could come down hard on states that would go their way in November regardless. They could keep those states in line with little or no threat of it coming back to haunt the party and their candidate in November. I could also foresee the national parties being able to strong arm state parties making the decisions on caucuses to comply (That extra filter of the state government doesn't exist in those states.). But in competitive general election states? The parties would have to be blinded by the need to sanction rule-breakers in the short term to hamstring themselves long term in the general election in an electorally consequential state.

So, if you're Florida or Virginia or Arizona or Missouri or Michigan and you are already scheduled in the pre-window period, why not hold your spot and see what the parties will do to you? [Of course, I don't see the Republicans attempting that kind of sanction. Then again, I didn't see the Temporary Delegate Selection Committee proposing to require early states to allocate delegates proportionally versus having the freedom to determine the mode of allocation either.] In a nutshell, there isn't a whole lot the national parties could (or would) do in that case. It would hurt them in the general election.

* I should note that there is a sequence to all of this. If one of these states telegraphs that it is going to stay in place, thus violating the proposed rules the two parties have out there at the moment, it could open up the floodgates. A handful of states with some leverage could become a full scale 19 -- or more -- state problem.


Matt said...

Josh - one thing to keep in mind. There's no incentive for states to jump ahead on the Democratic side - as there won't be a primary campaign. So the pressure for states to move ahead will solely be on the GOP side in 2012 - the Democrats get a bye this cycle. And that may affect which states jump ahead.

Closer To Home said...

It seems that an alternative to going after the state's delegates is to go after the number of delegates it is allowed on the national committee and the different sub-committees. For example, a state that violated the rules would lose its votes (or a portion thereof) on the RNC until the next presidential primary.

This attacks at the heart of the influence and prestige of exactly the people at the state party level who make the decisions on when to stage their primary.

Josh Putnam said...

That will definitely have an effect, Matt. At the moment, my gut is telling me there won't actually be that much jumping forward in 2012. We'll either see some or all of these 19 February states comply with the proposed timing stipulations, or we'll see a handful hold their ground and leave open the question of whether the others will follow and/or late states move forward.

We'll get the rules in August from both parties and then state legislatures will begin pre-filing bills in December for the sessions starting in 2011. State parties (at least on the Democratic side) have to have their delegate selection plans into the DNC/RBC by April.

As 2008 proved, that's a fluid process. State parties can submit DSPs, but the state legislatures can change the timing aspect of that plan without the party's input. By this time next year, we'll have some sense as to whether there will be states that will challenge the proposed timing restrictions.

Josh Putnam said...

It is true that state parties have some influence over the scheduling decision in some cases, but the ultimate decision -- at least in primary states -- rests with state governments. A state party could be punished by the RNC, then, but that doesn't necessarily have any bearing on what the state government would do.

MysteryPolitico said...

Has there been any hint as to what kind of penalties will be written into the rules on the GOP side? Can you recap what the Republican Temporary Delegate Selection Committee recommended, including what they recommended with regard to penalties for states that go too early?

Josh Putnam said...

Hey MysteryPolitico. I'm going to risk looking partisan if I don't put something up about the Republican process soon. I've got a few things in the works, but the bottom line is that I either don't have the types of contacts within the GOP that I do within the Democratic Party, and/or their process has not been quite as transparent.

TDSC member, Saul Anuzis said in a tweet that he would have the committee's recommendations up the night after they were accepted. Yet, nothing has appeared on his blog. [And my comment there asking about it has either yet to be moderated or is being ignored.]

There has been enough other news floating around on the GOP's process, but very little in terms of anything outside of Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina saying their positions are safe. Several items I have read have referred to the winner-take-all ban before April as a punishment. But that is all I have seen in the way of penalties for going too early.

I won't call the GOP lax, but they have always been much more willing to yield to the states to determine their own rules (I'll have more on that later.), and thus less willing to punish.

Long story short, the language I have seen says nothing about any penalties.

...but I'll have more on that later.

MysteryPolitico said...

Thanks for the update Josh. I agree with Matt that the states with Democratic governors and Democratic legislatures will be the most likely to comply with the new national party rules. There will likely be no contest on the Democratic side, so why not simply comply with the rules?

For states with GOP governors or legislators though, the incentives are different. As long as the national party's sanctions aren't so severe that they prompt the candidates to ignore your primary completely (a la the DNC sanctions of FL and MI in 2008) you still have incentives to hold your primary early. This seems especially true in states with GOP governors, as the governors will all want to have something like the "kingmaker" role that Crist had in 2008.

Since it doesn't look like the RNC wants a re-do of the public relations fiasco that the DNC had in 2008 over FL and MI, I'm guessing that whatever sanctions they impose will be mild, and several states will remain in early Feb. I would be stunned if they can get all 11 Feb. 7th states to move to a later date. And if at least one of them sticks in Feb., then New Hampshire will go at least a week earlier, and Iowa will go a week earlier than that.

So it seems like by far the most likely scenario is that Iowa votes in mid-January at the latest. Would you agree with that Josh, or do you think there's really much chance that all of those early Feb. states are going to move?

Josh Putnam said...

Democratic-controlled state governments will be a lot like the members of the Rules and Bylaws Committee last weekend. They'll be focused on reelecting Obama and won't want to rock the boat.

But these decisions to move up or back aren't happening independent of each other. If one or more states hold their ground in February, I don't necessarily see many states rushing to comply with either parties' rules.

Let's say that happens. Florida stays where it is. If you are a Republican-controlled state you've got to move up if you want to have an impact. If you're a Democratic state, what does it matter? Obama is going to be reelected anyway, so why not move up, have an impact on the Republican process and be prepared already for 2016? You'd likely take some lumps short term at the convention, but long term you'd be in pretty good shape.

The problem in that scenario is that if it is just one Democratic-controlled state that is behaving this way, then the party is likely to come down on that state's delegation pretty hard. However, if the activity is more widespread among those Democratic states, then the Democratic Party is going to be virtually powerless in addressing the issue.

It is the reverse of what happened when the House was voting on the health care bill in November. The Democratic majority was insistent on having a two vote cushion on that vote so that one congress person did not become the deciding vote. The majority needed that strength in numbers. If any group of Democratic-controlled states has that same cushion, then I don't think they budge. They can always say, "But ___________ did it too."

That said, I don't think that state legislators necessarily think that way. They will be more focused on 2012 than 2016. However, I do think they will be more apt to think about the next cycle than they have at virtually any time in the past. There's one question that will be in the backs of everyone's minds: What if 2016 is like 2008?

I have seen nothing that would lead me to believe the GOP will do anything other than require proportionality for those early states. The 50% penalty for timing violations will be carried over and states won't be very much deterred from moving or not moving if they want to.

I think some of those early states will move back, but I think Florida will hold its ground. And I think that the calendar in the left side bar looks better and better each day. A mid-January start time isn't what the parties want, but it gets the campaign out of the holidays for the most part. It actually ends up being a pretty good compromise position between 2008 and what the parties have proposed. If some states move back, then the 2012 calendar begins to look a lot more like 2004 than 2000. Interesting.

MysteryPolitico said...

Thanks Josh, that all sounds reasonable to me. One question about that calendar on the left sidebar though. Doesn't NH always like to go at least 7 days before any other primary? If so, then if NV and SC are on Jan. 28th, why would NH go on Jan. 24th, which is only four days before?

Josh Putnam said...

There are competing interests on that issue, MP. First, if Florida forces the pre-window states' hands, as I've been speculating, then there is a very finite amount of time in which those four contests can be held. This is colored by the fact that the national parties want to push things back from New Years. New Hampshire (and Iowa) could challenge that, but that would likely be viewed as an overreach. [Again, what would the parties do to IA and NH if they did challenge that?]

In that environment, New Hampshire does what it did in 2008: Values being first over having the exact spacing between contests that they desire.